City starts process to revive old church site

Michelle Willard, Daily News Journal, April 8, 2016

The Murfreesboro City Council wants more information before it can decide what exactly it wants to do with the old United Methodist Church building downtown.  (Photo: Scott Broden / File / DNJ)

The Murfreesboro City Council wants more information before it can decide what exactly it wants to do with the old United Methodist Church building downtown.
(Photo: Scott Broden / File / DNJ)

MURFREESBORO — The Murfreesboro City Council needs more information before it can decide what it wants to do with the old United Methodist Church building downtown, Councilman Bill Shacklett said. Shackett specifically wants to see structural and architectural reports on the building, so the council knows how much of the bell tower and sanctuary can be saved before they make a decision, Shacklett said at a meeting Thursday evening where they heard from City Manager Rob Lyons and started considering what to do with the historic building.

“We need to know where we are with the building … having those kind of reports (is important) so we know the viability of this,” Shacklett said. After about an hour of discussion, Lyons had added a few more things to his to-do list, including scheduling a neighborhood meeting, looking into forming a citizens commission and developing marketing materials for the site. Eddie Smotherman agreed with Shacklett before saying he would like to see more retail and residential development downtown.

“People don’t want to come downtown for government buildings. They want to come downtown for entertainment,” Smotherman said.

Lyons said the council might also want to consider the economic surveys of the area that will be part of the Highland Avenue land-use study to see what the city needs in the area.

Lyons said the council needs to set broad goals and consider the types of developers it should partner with in the project, using a similar process that was used to develop The Gateway and Medical Center Parkway, and that could include a citizen committee to oversee proposals.

“Now that we own the property we can be deliberate with it,” Lyons said, adding the city can be a catalyst for development downtown.

In January the City Council approved the purchase of the old First United Methodist Church and its 1.87 acres at Church and College streets from Franklin Synergy Bank for $1.55 million.

Lyons said the old church property has three main components: the former sanctuary, the former classrooms and gymnasium, and an outbuilding that was the former location of a realty and auction company later acquired by Mid-South Bank, which became part of Franklin Synergy. After Lyons’ brief presentation, the City Council discussed options for the property — mixeduse, retail, residential or even city offices. “I was thinking of something bigger and better for that lot,” Lyons said, calling it “an anchor for downtown.” Vice Mayor Doug Young echoed Lyons’ statement, saying he “does not want to see another government building there.”

“We are excited about the opportunity and what we can do with the property,” Mayor Shane McFarland said, but he would like to get the process started and moving forward while there is a demand for property in downtown. “I would hate for calls to stop coming in because we are sitting on the property,” the mayor said.

The bank is near the city’s Square and where the Rutherford County government is building a new six-story Judicial Center with a nearby parking garage on Lytle Street. The Judicial Center is scheduled to open in June 2018. At present there are publicly funded projects totaling $175 million in downtown Murfreesboro, Lyons said, listing the judicial building and parking garage, new Murfreesboro Police Department headquarters, the bridge over Broad Street, improvements to Middle Tennessee Boulevard, Lytle Street, as well as North and South Maney Avenue. The city is leasing the property to the bank for $9,172 per month through June 30, 2017. The lease arrangement allows the bank to continue headquarters operations while Franklin Synergy is constructing a new building in the Gateway area. The bank estimates its new building will be completed later this year.

Reach Michelle Willard at 615-278-5164, on Twitter @MichWillard or Rutherford County Business News at facebook. com/DNJBusiness.

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